For many people from other countries, United States coins can be a bit confusing. Even Americans may not always know what a particular coin is made of or how much it weighs.
Learning about dimes, nickels, and quarters can be both helpful and fascinating.
The biggest difference between quarters, nickels, and dimes is what they’re worth.
A standard quarter is worth 25 cents, a dime is worth 10 cents, and a nickel is worth 5 cents.
If the coin is a particularly rare minting, it might be worth more than its standard denomination, but it is these cent values that the coins represent.
Size and Weight
The different sizes and weights of quarters, dimes, and nickels make it simple to tell them apart quickly.
A quarter is the largest of the group, with a diameter of 0.955 inches and a thickness of 1.75 mm or about 0.069 inches. It weighs about 0.2 ounces.
It has reeded edges that feel slightly rough to the touch. Like all common United States coins, quarters are perfectly round, unlike some coins in other countries that are shaped like octagons or hexagons.
A dime is the smallest U.S. coin. It has a diameter of 0.705 inches and a thickness of about 0.05 inches. It weighs 2.268 grams or about 0.08 ounces. Like a quarter, it has reeded edges.
Nickels have smooth edges, and, although they have a monetary value that’s less than that of a dime, they’re a bit larger than a dime.
They have a diameter of about 0.835 inches and a thickness of about 0.077 inches. They weigh exactly 5 grams or about 0.17 ounces.
Another quick way to differentiate between coins is to look at their color.
United States coins have different colors so you can tell them apart quickly, but quarters, dimes, and nickels are all a similar shade of gray or silver.
In fact, quarters were once made with silver, but this became too expensive, and quarters containing silver were no longer produced after 1965.
Today, quarters retain their silver color thanks to a copper and nickel plating, which is wrapped around a copper core.
Dimes are also made of a copper and nickel alloy. They have a pure copper core around which a mixture of 75% copper and 25% nickel is wrapped.
Despite its name, a nickel is also made entirely of a copper and nickel mixture, often called cupro-nickel, which is made up of only 25% nickel and 75% copper.
Markings and Images
Every United States coin has different markings and images on each side.
Most quarters feature an image of George Washington on one side with the word ‘Liberty’ at the top and ‘In God We Trust’ along the side.
The coin’s minting date is printed at the bottom of this image, and there’s a small mark on the righthand side that tells where the coin was minted.
Many quarters depict an eagle on the reverse side. The eagle holds a bundle of arrows and two olive branches.
However, over the years, many quarters have been issued that show other images on the reverse.
These include the 50 state quarters, which were released between 1999 and 2008 to showcase each state and its history or iconic features, and the America the Beautiful quarters, which display images from the country’s national parks.
Other special quarters display American territories and the District of Columbia, and another quarter, released in 2021, shows an image of the famous Washington Crossing the Delaware painting.
New quarters, showcasing influential American women, youth sports, and other images, are planned for release in the future.
On the front of a dime, there is an image of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
This coin is also topped with the word ‘Liberty,’ with the words ‘In God We Trust,’ the minting date, and the minting location mark at the bottom and sides of the front.
On the back, the coin features a picture of an olive branch and oak branch flanking a torch. These elements symbolize peace, strength, and liberty.
The dime has seen many imagery changes throughout the years. Originally, the dime featured an image of a seated Lady Liberty on the front, and a wreath surrounding the words ‘One Dime’ was printed on the back.
In 1916, the Liberty Head or Mercury dime was released. This coin featured a bust of the goddess Liberty, with a fasces and olive branch image on the reverse.
Most nickels feature Thomas Jefferson’s picture on the front along with the words ‘In God We Trust’ along the left side and the word ‘Liberty’ and the minting date and location along the right side.
Coins with Jefferson’s picture were used from 1938 to 2004 and then from 2006 forward. The back of these coins usually show an image of Monticello, Jefferson’s home.
This image was used from 1938 to 2003 and from 2006 onward.
Between 2003 and 2006, a series of coins celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was released.
The reverse of these special coins features different images including a buffalo, which pays homage to one of the nickel’s historic designs, and a view of the coastline with Clark’s words, ‘Ocean in view! O! The Joy!,’ along the top.
After the re-introduction of the Jefferson and Monticello coins in 2006, a new image of Jefferson was used. It was accompanied by the word ‘Liberty’ written in Jefferson’s handwriting.